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UNP confident of forming next Government “Gota will have to work with us”

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by Zacki Jabbar

Former Prime Minister and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, stressing he has “no deals with anybody” said he is confident of forming a UNP government following the upcoming parliamentary election “This election will prove to be one of the most vital in the country’s recent past,” he declared.

Amidst a hectic polls campaign, the UNP leader spoke to The Sunday Island , outlining his future plans and vision for the country.

Q – The UNP has promised a monthly Rs.10,000 for the recently unemployed due to the Coronavirus Pandemic and a further monthly Rs. 10,000 for families affected by a future lockdown. How many beneficiaries are you looking at and how soon would you implement the project, if elected to power?

A – Families will have to be helped if there is a future lockdown. We have presented our proposals and will negotiate with the IMF and others to get USD 6 billion. I think we can do the initial work within six months. In any case USD 850 million is due as a share of our quota.

Once we start, long term bankable bonds of 25 to 50 years can be issued. This is what the UK and USA did during World War two. But its important that we restructure the economy and attract investments so that the loans can be repaid within 50 years.

In parallel, we can start identifying those who have been displaced due to the Coronavirus. There will many applicants, but the minimum we can do is to look after the people who are out of employment now.

Q – How many beneficiaries are your looking at?

A – About a million. But we can go beyond that, if there is a mass exodus from the Middle East.

Q – Do you think the government would sign the MCC agreement with the USA after the election?

A – The agreement has been finalized. The government should without dilly-dallying any further, tell the people before the polls as to what the exact position is. It should also clarify if it was trying to mortgage Surakumpath worth USD 4,500 million with the U.S government and get a loan of USD 1000 million against it.

Q – What is the reason for the breakdown in relations with Japan?

A – The government owes an explanation on this as well. JICA has suspended assistance. Relations with Japan are strained. Wrong actions of the government have resulted in one of our oldest financial lenders losing confidence in Sri Lanka. We will revive this relationship through our strong and pro-active foreign policies.

Q – How do you think the UNP will perform at the general election ?

A – We are the largest party. It all depends on how many come to vote. No party is sure about that. If there is no fear of the Coronavirus, more people will go to the polling booths. We hope more people vote. The higher the percentage, the better for the UNP. The people who voted for Gotabaya are now fed up due to the problems they are facing on all fronts.

Q – Is there a possibility of the UNP and its breakaway faction linking up after the election ?

A – UNP is UNP. We have decided to go on our own. We have to re-establish the UNP brand. So we will go as the UNP. The Sri Lankan identity is associated with the UNP. We are the major party, the others came later.

Q – How do you view President Gotabaya Rajapaksa trying to run the country with Special Task Forces packed with former military officers?

A – Its not good for the country. There is no need for such extreme measures when there is a Cabinet of Ministers and a Parliament.

Q – The SJB says it would take over your party headquarters – Srikotha after August 5 ?

A – If anyone tries to use force they would be reported to the Welikada Police. What would become of the country, if everyone resorted to violence to acquire what did not belong to them.

Q – The UNP promised to abolish the Executive Presidency and Proportional Representation System. But your 2015 government didn’t do it?

A – Now it can be done only after the term of the current President, but the PR system can be scrapped if all parties agree.

Q – Who do you think was responsible for the recent demolition of the Assembly Hall of King Buvanekabahu ll in Kurunegala?

A – The problem is that there is a huge attempt to save the culprits. It has become a joke. It is those who shouted the loudest about preserving historical sites who are now unable to ensure law and order. The complaint states that the Mayor had approved of the RDA bulldozing the Assembly Hall. The police has to find out the truth. There are many questions that need to be answered . Did the Mayor inform the Archaeology Department and did it grant approval. But there should be no room to scuttle the investigations.

Q – Can you predict the result of the General Election ?

A – We are confident of forming the next government.

Q – With the support of other parties ?

A – I have not struck deals with any party or individual. We want to strengthen the UNP. We will form the next government.

Q – If the UNP wins, it will have to work with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa ?

A – No, he will have to work with us. Under the current Constitution the Cabinet of Ministers and Parliament have more powers than the President. He will have to consult us.

Outlining his economic revival plan, Wickremesinghe said that a UNP-led government would set out the basis to build a competitive platform similar to the Japanese model.

“We will strengthen competitive enterprises and promote new age industries and services. This will create the necessary foundation for us to develop a strong economy that could repay the loans. We will immediately provide relief to the people by improving their financial situation, safeguard jobs and income. The UNP has track record of raising the required finances through developing international relations.”

He said : the UNP will work towards strengthening the 19th Amendment to the Constitution and the various Independent Commissions that have empowered the public service including the judiciary and police and placed shackles on political interference. The recent practice of delegating functions of the Police to the military should stop forthwith and the military given its rightful role.

Economic mismanagement by the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government was the main cause for the suffering people were undergoing and not the Coronavirus pandemic. Leading figures in the government were pulling in different directions in an effort to cover the economic mess created in a short period of just eight months and have tried to avoid dealing with this crisis by hiding behind the COVID-19 pandemic.

The people were facing many problems in their homes due to the economic downturn. With the onset of the financial crisis there is a shortage of jobs and many had reduced or no income at all. Daily wage earners and even businessmen and women higher up in the economic scale are feeling the pressures exerted by the financial collapse.

The people are facing reduced or an absence of any income. From the daily wage earners to the large businessmen and women, the pressures exerted by the financial collapse is being felt. It is important that we recognize that the cause for this economic collapse cannot be attributed entirely to the health issues in the country. It has been the short-sighted economic management by the government that has resulted in this precipitating state of the economy.

It is the home economy that forms the foundation of our day to day lives. The price increases that we have witnessed at every level of consumer goods, starting from the basic needs to the luxury appliances, has clearly demonstrated that the home economic situation is no longer manageable. People around the country are facing difficulties in providing three square meals a day for their families.

Businesses are unable meet the necessary monthly salary payments for their employees. The government chose to slash the allowances of the State Sector Employees who were then deprived of the festival advances that have been previously provided to them yearly. Allowances of private sector employees have been reduced and most businesses are finding it difficult to meet the salary bills.

The Industrial sector is grinding to a halt. The recently imposed import restrictions have taken many businesses to the verge of collapse. The self-employment sector is in danger. The incomes of those who are engaged in agriculture as well as other sectors of our economy are also declining. Many of the key export markets have been lost. The country’s foreign revenue sources are disappearing fast and the economy is facing a grave danger of falling down an abyss. The retrogressive aspect of this crisis is the unbearable increase in the cost of living that has resulted in a large number of families in the country facing financial difficulties. The country as a whole is recording a decline in the per capita GDP. It has been predicted that over one million will be jobless by 2021.

The level of unemployment is expected to sky-rocket with a drop in Middle East employment. Sri Lanka’s foreign reserves are also depleting. Printing Rs. 450 billion is no solution to the crisis. We are falling from the frying pan to the fire. We must overcome this crisis and disentangle ourselves from the existing chaos created by this government. There are no short solutions to the problems that we face.

The UNP has on numerous occasions highlighted the importance of implementing a long term comprehensive economic programme that will cover all aspects of the economy. This is the only approach that can overcome this crisis. We have called upon the government to announce such a programme, but it is unable to formulate a strategy, because it lacks a viable economic vision. The government has already demonstrated in this short period that it lacks the capability to face the external economic challenges and build a strong national economy.

As a nation we are now faced with the gravest economic crisis since independence and it is only the UNP that has the vision, the plan and the capability to address the present crisis. We have a proven track-record time and again undoing economic mismanagement and reviving our economy. In 1977, 2001, 2015 and again in 2019 after the Easter Sunday attacks, it was the UNP that led the country’s economic recovery.



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SJB: Excise, FM officials all out to pocket Rs 1 bn

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By Saman Indrajith

Matara District SJB MP Buddhika Pathirana yesterday told Parliament that the Finance Ministry and Excise Department officials had misled Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and State Minister Ajith Nivard Cabraal in order to obtain billion rupees, fraudulently.

The officials had got a contract for printing stickers or barcodes to be displayed on bottles of liquor awarded to an Indian company.

“The project would result in one-billion-rupee loss to the government coffers annually,” the MP said, adding that the money being taken from the public purse would end up in the pockets of corrupt officials.

Pathirana said that the Excise Department had commenced a project to paste stickers on bottles of liquor to differentiate them from the fake and counterfeit bottles in the market.

“As per this project’s requirements, 32 million stickers would be needed per month. The stickers are to be purchased from Madras Security Printers company of India. This method was proposed in 2016 but it failed and the officials thereafter decided to introduce a barcode system.

“The cost of a sticker at 25 cents and the new barcode system will cost of two rupees a piece. This is a dubious deal. It seems that the Finance Ministry officials and the Excise Department heads have ganged up to give the contract to the Indian company and get commissions. There are many unanswered questions. First, the contract of printing the barcode too has been given to the MSP company, which could not secure the first contract. I want to know whether the proper procurement process has been followed. The second question is whether the barcodes would be up to the standards listed in the tender. Third question is who had selected the MSP company which is black-listed in India after being found guilty of frauds with Indian liquor companies in providing stickers to them. MSP has been blacklisted in many other countries. The company has been banned in Sudan and Liberia for supplying the stickers to private companies. The last question is whether this fraud is being committed with the knowledge of ministers of this government.”

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Reserves fall to lowest since 2009, rupee strengthening to be short-lived: report

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by Sanath Nanayakkare

Sri Lanka’s Foreign reserves had dropped to USD 4.1bn in March 2021, the lowest since August 2009, on the back of over US$ 4bn outstanding debt payment during April-December 2021 period, a report issued by First Capital Research yesterday said.

According to the report, rupee appreciation is likely to be short-lived considering Sri Lanka’s depleting foreign reserve position, high foreign currency debt repayment requirement and limited funding sources available in the market are expected to further increase depreciation pressure on the currency during 2Q and 3Q.

“We maintain our exchange rate target for 1H2021 at Rs. 196-202 with 2021 year-end target at Rs. 205-215 as mentioned in our ‘Investment Strategy 2021 – January 2021,” the report recalls.

“Sri Lankan rupee appreciated 5% against the US dollar over the last 2 market days reversing the continuous accelerated depreciation witnessed in January-April 2021. On 12th April, Sri Lankan rupee recorded a historical low of Rs. 201:1 US$. Ministry of Finance (MoF) reported on the same day that the government of Sri Lanka entered into a loan agreement with the China Development Bank (CDB) for US$ 500mn and MoF expected the funds to be disbursed during the same week. Following the announcement, the market registered a steep appreciation with mid-rate recording at Rs. 190.9 on April 19,” it says.

The total foreign debt repayment (capital and interest) for 2021 is US$ 6 bn, according to the report.

Meanwhile FC Research believes that the temporary appreciation in USD-LKR, may adversely impact earnings of export companies such as Hayleys, Haycarb, Dipped Products, MGT Knitting Mills, Teejay Lanka, Expolanka Holdings etc. in the short term.

“However, considering the potential future currency pressure, we expect an overall depreciation of approximately 12% for the rupee providing a significant gain for companies with foreign currency revenue”, FC research predicts.

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Govt. asks Opposition not to propagate lies

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By Saman Indrajith

Chief Government Whip and Highways Minister Johnston Fernando yesterday accused the Opposition MPs of abusing parliamentary privileges to mislead the public by propagating lies about the Easter Sunday terror attacks. 

Addressing Parliament, Minister Fernando said: “The Opposition MPs level wild allegations in the House knowing that they have the cover of parliamentary privilege. If they have anything substantial or any knowledge of the perpetrators of the Easter attacks still not in custody they can go to the CID and lodge complaints so that such complaints could be investigated.”  

Fernando said so after SJB Galle District MP Manusha Nanayakkara had told the House that he possessed evidence of those who carried out the Easter Sunday terror attacks.

Nanayakkara also said that the facts that he had were not in the report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Easter Sunday carnage.

“You are making various statements regarding the Easter Sunday terror attacks in the Chamber without any proof because you know that you have Parliamentary privilege. You even quoted some statements which are not included in the PCoI report. How did you obtain such information? Why didn’t you complain about this to the CID in the first place? Your action is aimed at misleading the public,” the Minister said. 

Minister Fernando said that the Opposition should stop insulting Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith by misinterpreting the latter’s statements. 

“When you are in the Government you never said that this is a Buddhist country. Now you are insulting the Cardinal too. You should not do that,” the Minister said. 

“The former Government should be responsible for the terror attack. Now we are trying to punish those who are responsible for it. We will take action against everyone who is responsible. You should support us, not try to obstruct the on-going investigations,” Minister Fernando said.

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